Two of the largest cable news providers, Fox and CNN, have laid claim to the title of “most trustworthy” this year. Both reference recent polls to back up these claims (Fox / CNN) but how does the media or news agencies like them establish or develop trust and how do they define it? More importantly, how do we (the audience) define it?
The polls that Fox and CNN reference are wrought with obvious flaws. First, start with the numbers. Both polls included slightly more than 1,000 respondents. Compare this to the total combined cable news viewership of the 3 largest cable news providers (CNN + Fox + MSNBC): ~ 4,570,600 viewers. So the sample sizes of each poll are slightly more than 0.02% of the entire potential viewing audience (the polls direct people to make the distinction between “most trustworthy” or “do you trust ‘News Brand X’; yes or no”). In the case of the 60 minute/Vanity Fair poll the third significant player, MSNBC, wasn’t even an explicit option. This is like asking 10 people in your row at a packed NFL football game what beer they’re drinking and declaring your row’s most consumed beer to be the favorite of all NFL fans.
Second, it’s human nature to lean towards news that conforms with one’s own beliefs or views about their city, country and world. This is reflected in the polls mentioned above with Republicans heavily favoring Fox News and Democrats leaning considerably more towards CNN (and MSNBC in the Public Policy Polling survey).
“A generation ago you would have expected Americans to place their trust in the most neutral and unbiased conveyors of news,” Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said in a press release. “But the media landscape has really changed and now they’re turning more toward the outlets that tell them what they want to hear.”
“most trustworthy” is [now] a relative term that is gradually losing its meaning as well as its commercial value.”
News agencies that continue to wrap factual reporting in subjective commentary that slant towards specific groups erodes the collective confidence of the audience in the abilities of the industry as a whole. Rich further states,
“[the] choice between news with distorted “facts,” Fox style, and the news-free “news” that can subsume its rivals is a lose-lose proposition, especially for a country at war.”
Without some meaningful metric with which to measure a news agency’s overall credibility, or to hold them accountable to (veracity of content), there’s no indication that the current slide into subjective news that the likes of Fox and MSNBC are pioneering will abate anytime soon. Trust should be based on accuracy, not conformity. A possible first step in the right direction is Veracious Entropy’s first project, HowTru? (recently covered in the ReadWriteWeb). Don’t forget to join!